'Academy players have opportunities at this club’

It’s been a common sight in the second part of the season to see at least one or two academy products on the bench for our Premier League games – as well the usual, more established youth players, in the starting XI.

Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah have been used regularly this season, but on Monday the list of substitutes also included three youth players who are yet to play a minute of first team football for the club.

Marcelo Flores, Mazeed Ogungbo and Zak Swanson were all named in the 18-man squad, and with two more senior players picking up injuries this week, there’s likely to be further opportunities for first-team exposure for our youngsters during the season run-in.

Flores is an 18-year-old attacking midfielder who made his senior debut for the Mexico national team last year, and has been in great form for our under-23s this season.

Ogungbo is a year older, and has been a mainstay for the youth sides over the past couple of years. A central or left sided defender, he’s a Republic of Ireland youth international, and like Flores, it was his first appearance in the first-team squad on Monday.

Fellow defender Swanson, 21, has been on the bench before, and has played first team football out on loan previously. A versatile full back, he joined the Arsenal Academy aged just six.

Other youth players such as Omari Hutchinson, Mika Biereth, Charlie Patino, Zach Awe and Ryan Alebiosu have also been involved in the matchday squad this season, and Mikel Arteta is ready to place his trust in them if needed.

“It is part of the project and it is part of our DNA,” he said to the media in his pre-match press conference.

“Our academy players have to have opportunities in this club and we want to give them opportunities. But we have to give them when they are ready. We will decide, depending on the game, whether or not they are ready to take that next step.

“When I see them closer I will tell you if they are ready!”

The boss has been able to rely on the same core of 12 or 13 players over the past few weeks, but with Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey joining Takehiro Tomiyasu in the treatment room, he will now be turning to those who haven’t had as much game time during the second half of the season

“That is the challenge,” he said. “That is why you have to prepare really well, every single day. So when you have the opportunity to step up, you are ready. If you don’t then when you have the opportunity you are not going to take it.

“That is what we encourage. We try to ask the players all the time to be at their best in training so the minute we need them, they are ready to give everything to the team.”

Arteta concluded his press conference by stating that in an ideal world, he would like to work with “a squad of 22 outfield players, and three goalkeepers”, and said he is expecting a busy summer in order to bolster the playing staff for next season.

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